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At least six teams are in with a chance

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PETER ROEBUCK

Tipping sports results is a mug's game.

Last week Roger Federer lost in the second round. Recently Nick O'Hern knocked Tiger Woods out of a Matchplay event. The World Cup is wide open and cases can be made for at least six teams taking the biscuit.

At such times it is usually best to back the Aussies. A month ago they looked well nigh unbeatable. Then they made the mistake of taking the game for granted. Defeats and injuries were the inevitable result. Brett Lee is still in dry dock and though Andrew Symonds has recovered it is hard to believe that he can bowl or field as well as previously.

Australia still tough

Nevertheless the Australians will take a lot of beating. Their batting remains formidable. Ricky Ponting is the best batsman around, Michael Hussey is resourceful and Brad Hodge is dangerous.

Much will depend on the openers. If Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden score, the rest will fall into place.

Admittedly the Australian bowling is vulnerable but that was also true in 2003 after curious substances were found in Shane Warne's bloodstream. Moreover the Australians are used to winning. Glenn McGrath may be a problem.

Sport has seldom allowed players to pass smoothly into the night. Even `The Don' scored a duck in his last Test. Steve Waugh did not conquer India. Victories are secured by teams looking forward and not backwards. Amongst the rest, New Zealand and South Africa must fancy their chances.

By and large World Cups are won by well-organised outfits containing powerful characters. Vast stages demand dominant personalities.

Both sides need their leading lights to shine. New Zealand must overcome its inferiority complex. South Africa must abandon its sense of duty. To the brave will go the spoils. A side playing the odds will not beat Australia.

The Kiwis had the second best team in 2003 but lost points after foolishly conceding a match in Kenya and did not reach the later stages. Now Stephen Fleming has a balanced, adaptable side that knows its game.

His team bats a long way down, and the middle order can create mayhem. Fleming can also attack with pace or spin; Shane Bond and Daniel Vettori can be a handful.

Also the Kiwis have found form.

Against most expectations, South African sport is enjoying a strong run. Not so long ago the merchants of doom were predicting a swift decline in rugby and a slower subsidence in cricket.

Now the national and provincial teams command respect in both sports. Smith leads a lively side containing several fine players but dependent upon the contributions of a respected old guard that can hear the clock ticking. South Africa will not give much away but does it have the spark needed to take the trophy?

Apart from the obvious strugglers, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, a team unable to escape the evil loose in their country, the rest cannot be discounted.

England has been buoyed by the return of its captain and most forceful batsman, India has a powerful batting line-up but will need it, Sri Lanka has been playing superbly, West Indies impressed in the opening match but the bowling is unreliable and the pressure will be intense. No home team has won a cricket World Cup.

Tips? No point asking an `expert'! Taking the plunge, it is New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and West Indies or Sri Lanka to reach the semis. And a winner? South Africa and New Zealand in the final!

Now burn this article. And never mention it again. Unless, perchance, it proves perspicacious.

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